Saturday, June 29, 2019

Zip Comics #1 - pt. 4

Moving on, this is Captain Valor. If the art looks above average to you, it's because this is by Mort Meskin, the Jack Kirby before Jack Kirby was Jack Kirby.

Does the writing hold up to the art? Let's consider the stool. A stool is a perfectly good clubbing weapon. Valor could have just handed the stool to Ronnie. Instead he breaks one leg off. He doesn't even break three legs off and pass the weapons around; he tosses the rest of the stool aside. And then he leads with the stool leg, when he's actually holding a gun? He could have taken the first guard prisoner and used him as a hostage.


Finding grenades in the saddle bags is a huge lucky break. Too lucky? He blows up at least 15 pursuers with that last grenade (definitely possible, since I had lowered damage and extended blast radius on grenades in 2nd edition), slowing down Ho Tsin's army enough that our Heroes can ride out well ahead of their pursuers.

We don't see much of the chase scene, but losing line-of-sight is an example of an obstacle to overcome during a chase.

I suspect Valor is exaggerating about a million, though in a wilderness setting, numbers encountered could be in the hundreds.


This is Mr. Satan, what would be a pretty standard pulp feature, except that it reaches deep for its inspirations. This page alone evokes both The Moonstone and The Sign of Four.
Now this page strikes me as odd. You'll note that Mr. Satan chokes the guard unconscious, but when more mobsters show up ...they find blood? I'm having trouble even figuring out how that happened, unless the guard hit his head when he went down...?
Mr. Satan appears to be hitting two bad guys at once, but I think we have to account for some time compression in that panel and he's hitting them on separate turns.

Is it relevant that Dudley Bradshaw likes to go to the gym? It is, because it speaks to what Heroes do in their downtime. Should it have some game mechanic benefit if you go to the gym? Probably not...but if enough game time passed and a fighter or mysteryman had not been to the gym, I might be willing to assign a temporary penalty to attack rolls...

Lastly, this is Zatara -- oops, no it's not, but a clumsy imitation Zatara named Zambini the Magician. Here we see Zambini can cast Snake Charm and, I'm guessing, Hypnotic Pattern (though we never see a pattern, just its effects).

We also see him using his "wand" -- a boomerang amulet -- to cast spells. The boomerang aspect is a bit forced.

Thank goodness he doesn't say "I'll rub my boomerang amulet and find out who sent the snake!" from in bed.
Here Zambini seems to be casting the spell Fumble.

Some of his spells -- but not all of them -- require command words. They look like they say something backwards, like Zatara's spellcasting, but they don't.

And then he casts Reduce Person...
...and, presumedly, Charm Person, so the spy chief will serve him.

Mass Polymorph is going to be a tough spell on this game; it seems fairly common, but it should be a high-level spell for what it can do. Normally I would say, okay, let's make a weaker version with just a very short duration, but these guys stay pigeons long enough to coat a statue. This would be an 8th level spell, meaning Zambini has a whopping 15 brevet ranks.

Or, he used his already cast Hypnotic Pattern to make them think they were pigeons, then used Charm Animal to make two real pigeons do what he made the two men think they were doing. Convoluted, yes, but more feasible in a balanced campaign world.
The Basic book made it clearer than 1st edition Hideouts & Hoodlums did that magic-users needed to be limited by something -- either verbal, somatic, or material components. Zambini has a unique weakness -- human contact. That may seem pretty rough, but essentially, someone's touch could do the same for the first three examples -- covering the mouth during verbal components, swatting the fingers out of alignment on somatic components, or batting the material components to the floor. And grappling always halts spellcasting, though I did not clarify this enough in the rules.
The last spell is actually a power, Turn Gun on Bad Guy. I think this is the second time I've seen this, so there does need to be a spell.

Incidentally, the countries here are "Ritania" and "Hundanian," clearly meant to be European countries. Hundanian must be a stand-in for Germany, though Ritania is less clear -- Germany had so many enemies by 1940!

Saving a king and getting knighted are high honors for a rookie Hero. I would personally have waited longer and built up to this.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Friday, June 21, 2019

Zip Comics #1 - pt. 3

This is still Kalthar, and we've rejoined him just in time to find out where he hides his magic potions. Is invisible panther hair whiskers? I wonder why the grains even need to be tied to his ears, as weaving them into his hair (if it was longer) would have been much more sensible.


Being normal size means Kalthar isn't buffed by any powers. In such a state, five guards are easily enough to take him down.

Unlike many other strips, it is clear that not everyone is speaking English; Kalthar just happens to know all their languages. I honestly don't see much difference between that and having them all speak the same language, although we'll talk about this more on the next page...


It's interesting that throwing spears at a Hero when he can move around is combat, but if he's tied up, it becomes a deathtrap, with the separate rules that apply to deathtraps (zero hit points means death instead of unconsciousness).

It seems like Kalthar is using some kind of power to summon apes, but if the apes are considered his SCMs, and he's just shouting for them, and they're near enough to hear it, isn't there a good chance they would just come anyway...?

Here's where requiring Heroes to know different languages might actually be useful in the game -- because knowing the language can form a connection with someone, and give you a bonus (+1?) to your encounter reaction roll.

Kalthar can clearly speak with animals as well. I do not want to give this ability all Heroes, and in fact brought up on this blog a long time ago that the Explorer class should get the speak with animals ability. Maybe Kalthar is multi-classed?

And last on this page is a rare example of an elephant being able to wreck through a stone wall. Elephants sure are strong!
Here, for the first time, we learn that Kalthar grows 15' tall when he's activating his powers, which seems to include Nigh-Invulnerable Skin and Multi-Attack.
This feature is War Eagles. Six am seems awful early to start playing Dawn Patrol (TSR joke there).

One of the nice things about this strip is that it includes the name of each plane at the bottom. I don't have to compare the drawings to photos and guess anymore!


If I ever manage to write my own aerial combat rules, trying to gain control of the facing of your opponents will be a critical function in combat.

Always make sure there is some downtime in your campaign for role-playing. Friendly rivalries are a good role-playing opportunity. Romances are a little more challenging for most roleplayers.

It seems almost too good to be coincidence that the twins like a Helen Carter, like Captain America would later like a Sharon Carter.

Again, we get the name of a plane to help with research, though that is awfully hard to read...

A lot of the H&H rules still can apply to aerial combat, including using skills to move silently and gaining surprise before combat -- just occurring at much faster movement rates.
...and yet there still seems to be a need for specific aerial stunts that work more like they used to for the 1st edition Aviator class. Here we see the stunt Power Dive in use.


This is also a prime example of the amount of carnage that can go on in a war-themed campaign. The goal seems to be accruing the highest possible death toll -- which is perfect for racking up XP in a campaign where finding treasure and trophies is not the goal.
Here we have a villain turn up. You can identify villains by their ability to make return appearances; so, basically, anyone who survives going up against the Heroes could be a villain. The problem here is, the twins haven't actually met or interacted with Anton Schultz, so there's no fun in making him a villain.

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Friday, June 14, 2019

Zip Comics #1 - pt. 2

I went into my last post on Zip Comics having already read and knowing that I liked its flagship character, Steel Sterling, but now we'll dive back in and look at some features I never read before.


Mugsy is gag filler, and I don't always take the prices listed in gag filler seriously, but charging per pound for pet dogs sounds logical and a good rule of thumb for finding the price of animals in the future.

This is our next serious character, a pulp-/serial-influenced Hero called the Scarlet Avenger. Steel Sterling was well-thought out, Scarlet Avenger not so much -- the opening caption explains how his face is paralyzed and he can't smile, and he smiles on panel 3.

SA is one of many inventors of paralyzing rayguns, as well as the webcam chat, by 1940.


We don't know how many operatives SA has, but it's at least 12. That's more Supporting Cast Members than most Heroes can have, but this is why 2nd edition distinguished between SCM and hirelings/employees.

I'll say this -- Sledge Hammer and Joe Dragon are pretty good villain names. That's even a pretty good villain throne -- oh, I'm sorry, that's Scarlet Avenger's chair!

I believe this is the first, but certainly not the last, bulletproof cape in comics. I'm not sure which is more unrealistic, that weaving steel into a cloth cape will deflect bullets, or that a cape with steel woven into it would billow like that.


Regardless, we have our traditional options for how SA's gear works -- this is either a trophy item that can be taken off and shared or it's flavor text describing how SA's powers work (if he were statted as a superhero, though I'm hesitant to do so). It could even be flavor text just describing why the bullets didn't hit when the player made his save vs. missiles to dodge gunfire.


And, because golden age comic books were seldom consistent, the player doesn't even need to use the same explanation next time it happens!

SA has a webcam and an electric car!  It's like he was born in 1980!


The hypnosis machine seems fanciful in design but, again, could just be flavor text describing how SA uses his hypnotism skill. 
Now, here's where it starts getting tough to just explain away SA's abilities as flavor text. That magnetic ray duplicates the power Raise Car -- again, making SA seem very superhero-y.


Man, SA is really brutal at murdering bad guys. He throws a car on top of them?

SA uses either the disguise skill or the Change Self power.

The paralysis raygun affects up to four targets at a time (slightly better than the Hold Person spell). This is most likely an actual trophy item, since we saw him inventing it during his downtime before the scenario began.

But then we go back to flavor text; game mechanically, I think SA is just searching for secret doors and saying he's using the magnetic ray to do it.

That's all the pages of Scarlet Avenger I'm sharing. It's weird; thematically, he seems so much like a mysteryman, but this story is practically begging me to stat him as a superhero (much like Centaur's Masked Marvel).

This is Nevada Jones, Cattle Detective. It's exceedingly violent, with Nevada being shot and nearly killed, on another page his horse is shot and killed, and then later Nevada is knocked out. This time, it will take Nevada a whole week to recover from being reduced to zero hit points. Perhaps because of his injuries we can overlook him calling Irene an idiot, though he's verbally abusive to the villains too and later calls the Mexican bad guys "greasers."

Here's an interesting twist; Kalthar is a "king of the jungle" character, but he's got magic grains that make him a superhero. Well, maybe they far, they just make him taller, and that's not enough to be a superhero; he could still be statted as a fighter with the great height just being flavor text.

So where does it take place? The Arabs would be concentrated in North Africa, but jungle adventures don't make a lot of sense in North Africa. Maybe we'll get more clues as we time!

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Zip Comics #1 - pt. 1

At last we get to Steel Sterling, my favorite MLJ character and, with Crimebuster, one of my two favorite Charles Biro heroes.


This is the moment of John Sterling's transformation and Steel Sterling's origin. Normally, this would just be backstory and assumed successful...but what if this worked like Traveller and origins were generated by random rolls, with a chance of failure? What if John had died during character generation?

It is not where I plan to take Hideouts & Hoodlums, but it is still thought-provoking.

Could this be Beeville, Texas? Beeville is a real place, but a village of less than 7,000 people in 1940.

"Running his fingers through his hair" is a trigger that is never mentioned again. There is no game mechanic for superheroes to have to trigger their powers, not the way magic-users need components/requirements, but they could need requirements, at the player's choice.

The power he activates is Race the Train, though with an elaborately "scientific" explanation -- flavor text -- for how he catches up to the car. He then wrecks the car, a difficult feat for good men, but I already expect I'll be granting him a few brevet ranks, since so many early superheroes are "played" that way.

Nigh-Invulnerable Skin, combined with using himself as a living shield for the hoodlum. But is there another mechanic at work here? Since it's a trope of the genre that the bad guy gets iced before he can be spill on his boss, Steel might have had to save vs. plot in order to save him.

Steel is now using Race the Plane, explained with the flavor text of magnetic attraction. Next he uses Electrical Resistance, a 3rd-level power that made it into the 2nd edition basic book from 1st ed's Supplement III.

I would not require a wrecking things roll for a superhero to get through a barbed wire fence. Maybe a non-superhero, as a door, or a door at a +1.
Heroes have the same protections from both arrows and bullets, but panel 5 makes it clear that Steel is buffed with Imperviousness. 
Steel made his save vs. plot to shoot bad guys -- a very rare sight for a superhero!

While most other superheroes were fighting generic bad guys, Steel starts out with a real supervillain. Not games mechanics-wise, perhaps, since he doesn't exhibit any powers or wrecks things, but he has the costume, the trappings -- including relying on traps! -- and the habit of always coming back that mark a supervillain.
A 100' pit trap is a very dangerous trap, inflicting 10-60 damage, and the slimy walls ensure that no basic skill check will allow climbing out.

The rats are large rats -- not even giant rats -- so they probably have no more than 1 hit point each.

While door thickness doesn't matter for wrecking things, wall thickness certainly matters, with a -1 penalty per extra foot of thickness.
A clever use of wrecking things! Biro was already thinking of things to do with superpowers that Siegel hadn't thought of yet.

Steel uses Extend Missile Range I to let the Black Knight have it!

Making the villain fall into his own trap. Classic.


Steel does not use his magnetic power to follow the car this time. Is that because he's expended all his powers for the day already?

Another clever use of wrecking things -- yes, you can wreck part of a thing -- and doesn't count against his powers for the day. It looks like he was saving one last power -- Nigh-Invulnerable Skin, and uses it for his bold getaway.

Police motorcycles get "borrowed" so much in comic books, they might belong on the starting equipment list!


As you can tell, I really enjoy these early Steel Sterling stories. I hope it's not too long before I get to the next one!

(Scans courtesy of Comic Book Plus.)

Monday, June 10, 2019

Top-Notch Comics #3 - pt. 3

We're still looking at the third issue of MLJ's second series and the aviation/espionage adventure of Wings Johnson. I'm looking at the German seaplane bomber and am unable to identify what type of plane that is...though, the artist is correct to use the 'plus' sign on the side of the plane.
Now, it looks like the plane coming after Wings is a Dornier Do 24, a 1937 flying boat, and not what one expects to see in an aerial dogfight.
Already moving on to Swift of the Secret Service. I include this page because the technique of getting the gems off the ship interests me. It's a daring ploy, and it's carried out right in front of the Hero, so if the player is paying attention there is a good chance of catching it.
The unfortunate engine accident is an unusual complication, especially since it occurs inexplicably.

Swift made his save vs. plot very well (maybe a natural 20) to find not only a convenient motorcycle, but one conveniently with its key still in it.
We have two more chase complications here -- the "has to beat the train to the tracks" complication and the "bridge is going up" complication. Both require an expert skill check -- or stunt -- to overcome.
We'll also look at Scott Rand on Mars today. Here we see Martian pirate saucers, with four weapons on opposing 'sides.' It's unclear what these weapons are, whether some kind of projectile weapons or rayguns.
As if we didn't already have enough versions of Martians, now we get Pink Martians, bald, with pointy ears and fangs. In one previous panel they were yellow, suggesting that they can either change their colors chameleon-like, or was miscolored for one page.

Four-to-one odds are too much for Thor, meaning these Martians are super-tough, or this is not an Asgardian god (something that was never clear).
I'm as big a fan of my wrecking things mechanic as anybody, but I don't think throwing a rock into the gears should have this big an effect...unless maybe you roll triple 6's?
I haven't showcased some filler in awhile, and picked this page to discuss condors. If a normal sized condor has a 15' wingspan, then a large condor would have a 30' wingspan, a huge condor 45', and a giant condor 60'. A large condor would weigh as much as a full-grown man, so would have 1 HD (if a particularly ferocious fighter, it might have 2). That would also be as large as the largest flying animal ever, the quetzalcoatlus. As such, I can only speculate as to how much a huge or giant condor would weigh. Maybe enough to be 4 and 8 HD...?

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Top-Notch Comics #3 - pt. 2

We'll continue today with  Dick Storm - and, yes, I still think that's funny.

Speaking of names...considering how important Kang the Conqueror is going to be for Marvel Comics in 24 years, it's interesting to see the first use of "K'ang" in a comic book.

Dick tries to trick/bluff K'ang, but K'ang isn't buying it; K'ang may have made a save vs. plot here, which I think is a more appropriate mechanic than a skill check to persuade someone. Of course, the Editor can always disregard mechanics and rule on persuasion based on role-playing skill.

Six-to-one odds is too great for Dick.
It's an unusual variant on the "get the guard to rush into your cell strategy," choking the woman in the cell with you, and there's a certain amount of extra danger here if the guard doesn't fall for it soon enough.

Dick is also really trusting of this woman who just happened to be in the same cell with him. If it was me, I would worry that she was a plant, put in there to pump me for information.
Moving on, this is Bob Phantom (another character who's name I often make fun of).

There's an unusual quality to this story where Bob doesn't seem to be an actual character in it, but is just turning up, Phantom Stranger-like, and warning the bad guys about the decisions they are making.

And he's clearly using the spell Poof! to do it.
It really looks like Bob is catching the bullet in his mouth, but the caption tells me he is blowing the bullet back. That seems too powerful for Gust of Wind. It's more likely the power Turn Gun on Bad Guy, but that's a 4th level spell, and we only need to use that if there was really a good chance of the mobster being hit by it. Or, this could just be flavor text explaining how the bullet missed Bob at such short range.
Walls of fire are very hard to get through. Just passing through fire is going to do damage, which should vary based on the size and intensity of the fire. At the low end is jumping through a campfire, which would do maybe 1 point of damage. At the high end is the magic-user spell Wall of Fire which does...well, I don't have my books handy, but I believe it's a lot of damage. Walking through a line of burning kerosene would likely do 1-8 points of damage. Walking through the inferno of a burning oil field, that seems like it would be more like the spell.

Bikini cut, Bob? Really?

Speaking of intensity, starting a cyclone is pretty intense. The weight of a shack is way beyond the lift capacity of a Telekinesis spell, so that's not what Bob is using. Maybe

Control Weather? Or we need a new power or spell for Create Cyclone.

Now we're moving on to our next feature, Stacey Knight, M. D. Here we see the benefit of keeping a sedative and syringe with you.

It seems a lot less risky a tactic than jumping out a third story window to grapple someone below you. For one thing, I wouldn't even allow the jumping and the grappling on the same turn; you can jump and try to land on the mobster to half your falling damage (and give him full damage) and then on the following turn begin grappling.

I would also not combine attacks with wrecking; you can hit the mobster with the gun or you can try to break the gun, but not both at the same time.

Now, the main reason I would not allow these things is that, in a group setting, you need to leave things for the other players to do. If this was solo play, I might be more lenient on combining effects.

I'm including this page of Wings Johnson of the Air Patrol because I want to remind players to always know where the exits are, and be prepared to use non-traditional exits. And, a note to Editors, include more things like laundry chutes in your game. Vertical transportation keeps your players thinking in three dimensions.
The 2nd edition basic book has suggestions for ramming damage with different vehicle types, and both editions of Hideouts & Hoodlums have rules for wrecking things. But what about when you want to ram a conning tower with your plane to wreck it? A good rule of thumb is that, for every 10 points of damage the vehicle ramming can do (not necessarily what you roll for damage), assign 1 level in superhero for wrecking.

It seems really implausible that your nemesis just happens to be on the first submarine you crash into in that entire theater of war, but if you want to get your story moving along sometimes...
I'm not going to bother talking about the "knock out the guard and steal his uniform" tactic again, but returning to the same building you just escaped from to hide is certainly an interesting tactic.

I have a feeling that, despite how poor Wings thinks his German is, that he would understand whatever the commandant tells him to do.

(Scans courtesy of Digital Comic Museum.)